CAIN: Issues - Education. Values in Education in Northern Ireland by Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery, 1997 (Chapter 2)

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Values in Education in Northern Ireland,
by Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery

[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]

Text: Alan Smith and Alison Montgomery ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Chapter Two


To fulfil the three main aims of the 'Values in Education' (NI) project, data was compiled using several research methods. An evaluation of the current provision for Values in Education in the Northern Ireland Curriculum, formed a major part of the research, and in terms of fieldwork, constituted the greatest part. During the early planning stages of the project, it emerged that it would not be possible to gain access to classrooms to undertake observation or "tracking" exercises. Attention therefore turned to alternative research approaches; surveys, questionnaires, formal and informal interviews. Because of the complex, sensitive, and often indeterminate nature of values, surveys and questionnaires were perceived as rather restrictive and "cold". In addition, selecting pertinent and unambiguous questions was considered problematic, as was anticipating follow-up questions, without some knowledge of the respondent's answer in the first instance. The absence of immediacy in using questionnaires was also considered an obstacle, again because of the subject nature of the research.

For the reasons outlined above, interviews seemed to present the most effective means of collecting data. These were structured in a semi-formal manner, with an interview schedule designed prior to each interview, and a proviso for departing from the schedule or extending the interview to address other issues, if they seemed appropriate and relevant.


A wide range of individuals involved in education in England, Scotland the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were contacted throughout the project and with the exception of a few, all contributed willingly to the project, by taking part in interviews and discussions, or by supplying information or materials.

The persons interviewed included the following;

  • Advisors from five Education and Library Boards
  • Assistant Advisors
  • Field Officers
  • Principals and Vice principals
  • Class Teachers
  • EMU Co-ordinators
  • Educational Researchers
  • The Clergy
  • Representatives from CCMS
  • Officers from DENI and CCEA

  • Staff from teacher training colleges
  • Representatives from voluntary bodies and organisations
  • Other Interested Individuals

Officers from the Education and Library Boards (ELBs) formed the largest percentage of interviewees. Forty-two officers and twenty-four principals, vice-principals, class teachers and EMU co-ordinators were interviewed.

The Education and Library Board Officers were important informants for three reasons. Firstly, most had at least four years teaching experience (some had over twenty), and a thorough working knowledge and understanding of the Northern Ireland Curriculum (at least in their area of speciality), and of the issues and challenges currently facing teachers (and pupils) in their subject domain and within the wider education system. Secondly, because they were seconded from their schools, and had the opportunity to visit and interact with teachers in other schools in the Board area, they had a degree of objectivity which other teachers, they suggested, may not have. In having this objectivity they were able, as one assistant advisor commented, to" look in from the outside". Thirdly because of the nature of their advisory role, they had regular contact with many teachers in their subject area, and in responding to the interview questions, they often drew on these teachers' experiences as well as their own. They were therefore able to give many apposite and vivid examples in their responses.

In drawing up a list of Board officers and teachers for interview, attempts were made to include representatives for every subject and Key Stage of the Northern Ireland Curriculum (in order to comply with the remit for the project). Respondents therefore drew upon experiences and examples of;

all levels and types of schools;

  • Primary - Key Stage 1 and 2;
    (Controlled, Maintained, Integrated)
  • Post-Primary - Key Stage 3 and 4;
    (Secondary, Grammar, Controlled, Maintained and Integrated)
  • Special Schools;

the Areas of Study in the Northern Ireland Curriculum;

  • Creative and Expressive (Art & Design, Drama, Media Studies, Music and
  • Physical Education);
  • English;
  • Environment and Society (Business Studies, Geography and History);
  • Language Studies (French, German, Irish, Italian and Spanish);
  • Mathematics;
  • Personal and Social Education;
  • Science (Home Economics, Science and Technology);
  • Religious Education;

the Cross-Curricular Themes;

  • Careers Education;
  • Economic Awareness;
  • Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU);
  • Cultural Heritage;
  • Health Education; and
  • Information Technology.

In addition, respondents made references to, and illustrated examples of issues and situations which were part of their experiences of education within the school, but beyond the classroom. Interviews also contained questions about individuals' roles and relationships in their schools and the wider educational domain.

The Interview Schedule

Questions in the interviews considered a wide range of issues; curriculum subjects and materials, school policies and ethos, relationships and behaviour. In reviewing the current provision for values in the Northern Ireland Curriculum, or essentially what is taught in the 4-16 Curriculum, the programmes of study and attainment targets for each subject at each of the four Key Stages, were analysed. An interview schedule was then devised containing a series of questions which focused on each Area of Study (outlined above). Questions were of three main types:-

Subject-Specific questions which addressed:

  • range of possible definitions for the term "values"
  • awareness and identification of specific values and value-related topics and issues in a specific subject;
  • 'perceived value' of a subject by teachers;
  • value messages communicated through a subject's attainment targets and assessment structures;
  • topics which presented difficulties for teachers;
  • issues and topics which could be addressed in developing guidance material on values in the curriculum;
  • role of EMU and other cross-curricular themes in a specific subject;
  • opportunities available and/or taken to develop links with other subjects in area of study and beyond in addressing common value-related topics.

Context-specific questions which addressed:

  • awareness and perception of values in special needs context;
  • values in integrated schools;
  • values and the Transfer Procedure;
  • values in approaches to lower ability pupils;
  • perceived differences in values between controlled, maintained, secondary, grammar, single sex, mixed, special and integrated schools.

Broader Issues about Teaching which addressed:

  • values and EMU
  • approaches to and handling of controversial issues
  • priorities in the school timetable
  • the values embodied in classroom and school management
  • value aspects of various teaching strategies
  • perceptions of value dimension(s) in the curriculum
  • whole child development
  • gender issues
  • debates surrounding the changing role of teachers
  • teacher identity vs. personal identity

(These topics and issues represent a broad selection of areas discussed. An example of an individual interview schedule is included in appendix 3 ).

Although questions were drafted to focus on Areas of Study rather than individual subjects, respondents tended to concentrate on their area of speciality in the curriculum. This might have been teaching History in the controlled secondary sector, or providing curriculum support for primary teachers in Science or English. The exceptions were Board Advisors who were responsible for three or four subjects within an Area of Study. They tended to respond to questions, by drawing on their knowledge and experience of all the subjects included in an area.

The majority of interviews took place over a period of eight weeks from May to June 1995. Arrangements for holding interviews were greatly influenced by Board officers' and teachers' timetables and workloads.

The nature of each interview depended to a large extent on the respondent and time constraints. The duration of interviews therefore varied between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours. The option to discuss additional areas was influenced by both the respondent and the time available.

Profiles of Values Initiatives

In order to compile listings of completed and ongoing initiatives in 'Values in Education' in the UK and Europe and to document present approaches to 'Values in Education', (a second aim of the project remit), a comprehensive selection of reports, projects and teaching materials was accessed and reviewed. Materials were sourced from various locations. In Northern Ireland, teachers and Board officers provided curriculum and guidance materials. Documents were also obtained from DENI and CCEA, and these dealt with a wide range of issues relevant to education and the wider society. The Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), The Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), the Scottish Consultative Council for the Curriculum (SCCC), HMI of Schools in Scotland and the National Curriculum Council (NCC) also supplied a quantity of literature.

Publications, reports, classroom and school materials were also received from voluntary bodies and organisations and a variety of projects and programmes in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England.

In addition, participation at various conferences on 'Values in Education', 'Ethos and Performance Indicators' and 'School Evaluation', also supplemented the data collected through other methods. Such conferences gave participants the opportunity to gain information via interesting and informative presentations and to also acquire insights into the practicalities and realities of a range of research projects. These included 'Values Education in the Primary School', the development of values education materials, the formulation of school values policies, and implications of using 'Ethos Indicators' in school self-evaluation.

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